City's out-of-print history to get modern format Panel votes $4,700 toward a CD-ROM

September 15, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Westminster plans to go high tech: putting an out-of-print book about its first 250 years on CD-ROM.

Copies of "The Building of Westminster in Maryland" are still sought for the history of the city and for photographs and descriptions of more than 200 historic buildings. It had two printings.

VTC The work will be returning for a third time to local book -- and computer -- stores, with the cooperation of the author and the original publisher.

Upon the recommendation of the city's Historic District Commission, the Westminster Common Council voted last week spend up to $4,700 toward putting the text on CD-ROM and to seek additional grant money from the state for the project.

"It probably has the best history of Westminster," Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said, and the history disk would make a better official gift than a commemorative plate.

Christopher Weeks, now a Harford County planner, wrote the book 20 years ago; it was published in 1978 by Fishergate Publishing Co. of Annapolis.

Anthony Drummond, the 69-year-old founder and past president of what is now Fishergate Inc., showed the mayor and council three sample chapters of the book that he had prepared for the computer.

"You can search the text and link the text to pictures and locations on the map -- then blow up sections of the map," Drummond said.

Drummond said the CD-ROM project would take about three months and the estimated cost is $8,200 for 1,000 copies.

"I think Westminster will be right in the forefront on this," Drummond said after the vote.

The book will take up only about 2 percent of a disk, he said, so new photographs and maps could be added to Weeks' original work for about $20 for each new page.

"Somebody ought to be thinking now about what they might want to add to it," Drummond said, because information can't be added to the disks later.

The mayor and several council members said they've heard from people with troves of old pictures that could be added to the work, along with new maps and information on some sections of town that weren't in the original book.

They asked the Historic District Commission to consider what to add while Drummond begins work and Westminster's technical planner Tracy Smith pursues grants for the project.

The city could wholesale the disks to book and computer stores, said Laurie Walters of the historic commission, and provide copies to schools and libraries.

Commission member and architect Dean R. Camlin said, "A lot -- if not all -- of the cost will come back in the form of sales."

"So we each have to sell," said Council President Edward S. Calwell.

"No, we each have to buy," said Yowan.

Weeks was enthusiastic when told about the project, although he described himself as "technologically challenged" as to what a CD-ROM is.

CD-ROM is an acronym for "compact disk read-only memory," a compact disk containing information that can be read by a computer.

"I'd be interested in watching to see how it's done," said Weeks, a 47-year-old Harford County native, who has worked for about 10 years as a preservation planner for the county and now lives in Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood.

"The Westminster project was the first project I had done, but it led to similar ones," said Weeks, who spent a year in Westminster beginning in 1976. "It was a fun project. I enjoyed the town and the people."

Since then, Weeks has written about a dozen other works, including "An Architectural History of Harford County, Maryland" 1996 and the 1995 biography "Alexander Smith Cochran: Modernist Architect in Traditional Baltimore."

He has done architectural histories of Talbot and Dorchester counties and in 1994 did an architectural guide to Washington.

"It was a different scale, dealing with Westminster and Washington, D.C. For one thing, I wasn't mugged in Westminster," he said.

Weeks' book covers the years leading up to Westminster's founding in 1764.

Westminster was unusual because the city was created by its residents, he said. They came primarily from Baltimore and southern Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and these two cultures were reflected in its early architecture.

Without an obvious geographic feature such as a harbor or crossroads, the residents worked on a number of fronts: to bring the western turnpike through the city in 1807, for the creation of Carroll County a generation later, and to bring the railroad in 1861.

Westminster and Bel Air, Weeks said, "happened to be in the middle" of newly created counties. But with Bel Air, "there really was no town until the county was created, and Bel Air was created as the county seat. It was not as big at the turn of the century, so there are more Victorian-era buildings in Westminster than in Bel Air," he said.

The catalog of Westminster's buildings at the back of the book is "what the publisher and the public like. That generates sales, because everyone whose house is pictured wants to buy it," Weeks said.

Weeks' criteria for listing a property were simple: "at least a century old -- and still standing."

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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